Tiny 8l potato bags work
I am very sceptical about growing potatoes in bags, so much so that I stopped doing it – it just wasn’t worth the hassle.
However, I was persuaded to trial Thompson & Morgan’s new method – one chitted potato Jazzy (second early) tuber in a tiny 8-litre bag, no earthing up, no fuss. The tiny size meant saving on expensive multipurpose compost.
The only thing I didn’t do was feed plants every other week with potato fertiliser, although they did have a season’s worth of slow-release feed in each bag.
In T&M’s trials, more than 80 tubers were produced in one bag in 11 weeks. My five bags certainly didn’t produce that much – but they did give excellent waxy little potatoes which were so clean, they didn’t even need scrubbing – just a decent wash. For the first time ever, not a hint of scab.
The yield wasn’t massive, but it never is in sacks; the bags are reusable; you save on soil; Jazzy’s one of the best spuds I’ve ever tasted and they were absolutely effortless.
In short, I’ve had my mind changed about growing potatoes in bags. Five tubers and five bags cost £8.99 from www.thompson-morgan.com.
Potted guide: first early potatoes
- PLANTING TIME: Late February (10 weeks before usual last frost) – late May.
- HARVESTING TIME: 10 weeks from planting.
- PLANTING DISTANCE: 5 per bag (or 1).
- ASPECT AND SOIL: Full sun.
- HARDINESS: Frost-tender.
- DIFFICULTY: Easy.
- RECOMMENDED VARIETIES: Rocket, Arran Pilot, Orla, Pentland Javelin, Red Duke of York, Foremost, Swift, Accent, Winston, Epicure, Casablanca, Maris Bard, Golden Nugget, Sharpe’s Express, Vanessa, International Kidney, Premiere, Deluce, Ulster Prince.
Chitting simply means encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting. Some people don’t bother, some swear by it.
Start chitting from late January in warmer parts of the country or in February in cooler areas, about six weeks before you intend to plant out the potatoes.
Each seed potato has a more rounded, blunt end that has a number of ‘eyes’. Stand the tubers with the blunt end uppermost in trays or old egg boxes, with plenty of natural light.
The potatoes are ready to be planted out when the shoots are 1.5-2.5cm (0.5-1in) long.
What potato terms really mean
There’s always confusion about potato jargon. What are first earlies, second earlies, early maincrop and maincrop?
It’s about when you plant, how long they take to mature and how much space they take up.
As I’ve listed the categories in date order (and it’s obvious) first earlies are FIRST – new potatoes.
Maincrops take 18-20 weeks to mature, planted from March-May, so you can be picking them as late as October to put in store over the winter. The other two fall somewhere in the middle.
First earlies are the ones to grow if you’re short on space. You can harvest them from 10 weeks BUT bear in mind potatoes are not frost hardy.
You can plant them out as early as late February (so the catalogues say) but wait until 10 weeks before your usual last frost – approximately the end of May here. That would mean the end of March – have the fleece handy!
Potatoes can suffer from many problems – here’s a brief run-down and organic controls:
SLUGS: those that damage potatoes spend much of their time in the soil, so slug pellets and surface treatments are pretty pointless.
Nematode treatment can be effective. Damage usually begins during August and becomes worse the longer the crop is left in the ground. Maincrop potatoes should be lifted as soon as the tubers have matured.
Heavy applications of farmyard manure and other composts can encourage slugs.
Susceptible varieties are Maris Piper, Cara, Arran Banner, Kirsty, Maris Bard, Maris Peer, Kondor, Pentland Crown, and Rocket.
Romano, Pentland Dell, Pentland Squire, Wilja, Charlotte, Golden Wonder, Kestrel, Estima, Stemster, Sante and Pentland Ivory show some resistance.
Damaged potatoes are vulnerable to storage rots – eat affected tubers first.
DROUGHT: Tolerant varieties include Ailsa, Cara, Cosmos, Desiree, Estima, Kestrel, Marfona, Picasso, and Rooster. The disintegration of tubers during cooking is associated with hot, dry growing conditions. Try Kestrel, Nadine, and Picasso. Improve growing conditions with organic matter, fertiliser and watering.
SCAB: Grow resistant cultivars – Arran Comet, Arran Pilot, Charlotte, Golden Wonder, Harmony, King Edward, Maris Peer, Nadine, Nicola, Pentland Crown, Pentland Javelin, Sante, and Wilja.
CUTWORMS, WIREWORMS and POTATO CYST EELWORM: Leave as long as possible between crop rotations. Grow cultivars resistant to eelworm – Athlete, Nadine, Maris Piper, Valour, Lady Balfour, Accord.
POTATO (LATE) BLIGHT: A problem in warm, humid conditions – grow earlies. It’s a disease of the foliage and fruit or tubers of potatoes and tomatoes, caused by Phytophthora infestans. Sarpo has the best resistance – very susceptible cultivars are Arran Pilot, King Edward, Majestic and Sharpe’s Express. Rescue plants by cutting off affected stems before 25 per cent of the plant have collapsed/turned brown. Leave tubers in the ground for two weeks for skins to harden, store those that have escaped infection. Destroy all infected matter.
FUNGAL SPOTTING OF TUBERS: Unsightly, but doesn’t affect taste. No remedies available – buy disease-free seed, practise crop rotation and gather as soon as mature.
SECOND GROWTH: During dry spells in late summer tubers stop growing, starting again after rain, leading to misshapen, split and hollow tubers. Grow drought-resistant cultivars.
VIRUSES: Internal staining of tubers – use virus-free seed potatoes, improve the soil and reduce stress.
FROST: Damages new growth. Cropping will be delayed and reduced. Tubers frosted in the ground should be thrown away.